6 Easy Steps to Meal Planning
1. Choose your seasonal veggies. Try choosing veggies that you can use for more than meal. For example I like to buy a lot of broccoli. I clean and steam all of it all at once and one night we can have plain, steamed broccoli and the next night I can make broccoli avocado salad. Roasted asparagus one night, sauteed asparagus and mushrooms the next. Roasted, honey carrots one night, sauteed carrots, mushrooms and asparagus the next night. As long as everything is washed, cut and prepped before the week starts, cooking veggies is a breeze. I also try to chop plenty of garlic and onion to use throughout the week as well. I throw them in the food processor and into ziploc bags for the week. Always keep a frozen option, just in case.
2. Choose your protein. Think about what you want. Chicken, fish, pork, steak. I usually make a trip to whole foods every 2 or 3 weeks and go nuts buying protein because they have a great selection of natural and organic. I marinate and freeze most of it, then all I have to do is pull out a bag the night before to deforst or even just put it in the slow cooker still frozen. Chances are if you don’t have a plan of what you’re going to have when you wont remember to de-frost anything. So write everything down, don’t just assume you’ll be prepared because your freezer is stocked!
3. Choose your startches/grains. Again, cook once, eat twice. Put brown rice on your menu for 2 nights, make enough for both nights the first time you cook it, and then that’s one less thing to think about on the next night. Choose root vegetables that you can prep ahead of time. Butternut squash can be cut and stored in the fridge for a few days without browning. If you like oven baked sweet potato fries you can prep them, throw them in the freezer and take out as much as you need when you need it and cook it from forzen.
4. Make a snack list. This is usually what throws me for a loop. My snacks aren’t a problem, I can grab a piece of fruit or chop some veggies but if you have a picky eater you need to do some prep. I like to choose 4 snacks that need to be prepared for the week and rotate them with easy snacks like raisins and cheese. Choose 2 that need the most prep work (like muffins or breads) and make them on Sunday night, choose 2 simple ones (like home made granola bars or pumpkin protein brownies) that are quick and can be made mid week. This will help you keep things interesting so you don’t have to pack the same snack every day. A good rule of thumb is 5 days for muffins/breads or anything baked. So Thursday would be the last day you pack a snack you made on Sunday.
5. Make a list of recipes. Think about what your family likes, what you can re-purpose easily for school lunches. Browse some cookbook for quick recipes that you’ve been wanting to try. Get as much of the prep work as you can done on the weekends (dice and chop what you need, put things together in ziplock bags, marinate).
6. Keep some essentials in the freezer. This can be tricky depending on your amount of freezer space. I happen to have a freezer in my garage because I like to have home made freezer meals on hand for days that I know I’m going to get home late. I always have organic frozen brocoli and spinach (from Costco) on hand to whip up some cream sauce for pasta or to make soup if I happen to run out of fresh veggies. You can even make large batches of chopped onions and garlic so you only have to do it once a month. I also have frozen brown rice in my freezer becasue brown rice takes forever to cook and sometimes you need a quick option. Another great tip is to freeze some herbs mixed with butter in ice cube trays and take them out as needed, you can use them to cook steak, chicken, fish or just about anything you can think of; even use it as a base to re-heat rice.
6. Make a shopping list. Without this you’ve got nothing. Make separate boxes on your paper for different sections (dairy, fruits, vegetables, grains, frozen, cans) and keep a running tally of what you need as you go through your recipes. Check your pantry and spice cabinet to make sure you really have what you think you do. And get to shopping.
To be totally honest, shopping, chopping and prepping isn’t my fvorite way to spend a Sunday but the more you do it the better you get at it and the less time it will take. And just think of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. You’ll have much more time to spend with your loved ones in the evening and you won’t have the headache of trying to figure out a healthy meal to make that won’t take you forever.